Visa's Simona Rabsatt Butler on Supplier Diversity

By ANA InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Visa's Simona Rabsatt Butler on Supplier Diversity

Simona Rabsatt Butler (pictured at top) is Senior Director of Global Strategic Sourcing at Visa. She was a key contributor to the new ANA report, "The Growth of Supplier Diversity" and will be a speaker at the ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference, June 27-30. ANA's Group Executive Vice President Bill Duggan recently sat down with Simona for an interview.

Bill Duggan: What are the benefits of working with diverse suppliers for marketing/advertising?

Simona Rabsatt Butler: There are multiple benefits. Beyond being the right thing to do, benefits include bringing diversity of thought and thought leadership to the work and partnership; providing flexibility and agility other suppliers might not have; providing the company with the ability to impact communities directly; and affording corporations a direct ability to drive equity within their supply chain while having a positive economic transformative ripple effect.

Duggan: Broadly, what is the role of sourcing in supplier diversity?

Rabsatt Butler: Sourcing's role is to be a conduit and advocate to and for diverse suppliers. We should partner with diverse suppliers to ensure they are not only supporting business needs but growing to their benefit as well as being a partner with our internal stakeholders to gain visibility to business opportunities where diverse suppliers can support.

Duggan: How important is it to you that diverse suppliers be "certified?" Do you work with non-certified diverse suppliers as well? What's the difference?

Rabsatt Butler: Certification is important as a validation that a supplier is truly 51 percent owned and operated by a diverse classification. It is a guiding post for corporations. Also, certification for diverse suppliers by an advocacy group affords membership and access to help them grow and evolve their businesses.

Duggan: Finding diverse suppliers in marketing/advertising can be a challenge.  What's your approach to finding suppliers?

Rabsatt Butler: Not sure I agree finding diverse suppliers in marketing/advertising is a challenge. I guess it depends in what area you are asking. We have to remember diversity isn't found in all areas of marketing/advertising, so maybe that's what makes it hard. I'd like to think that things are changing with ANA doing a great job of curating over 300 diverse suppliers in various areas of marketing/advertising. Other ways to find diverse suppliers include leveraging advocacy groups such as NMSDC, WBENC, and NGLCC and their data bases and engaging fellow sourcing or supplier diversity professionals to tap into their networks. An often-overlooked option is diverse suppliers themselves. They have their own network and if you are truly building strong partnerships with them, there is a wealth of information they can provide – from access to other diverse suppliers to business trends and innovation. I think the real question is: 'Are you expanding your bubble to find diversity?'

Duggan: Aren't diverse suppliers more expensive?

Rabsatt Butler: This question always intrigues me as if diverse suppliers don't deserve to be compensated for their services. All suppliers cost money, and it is sourcing's role to review the services requested against the timing and financials proposed. We benchmark, analyze, and negotiate to an amenable middle ground for both parties, no matter the diversity of the supplier. No one ever questions if non-diverse suppliers are more expensive. They are either one of the country's top agencies, so it is expected, or they are a boutique company, and it is expected. There's always a positive reason for a non-diverse supplier to be more expensive. So, like many corporations who are working to change the script on using terms like blacklist, master agreement, and grandfathered, I challenge sourcing to change this long-held script which is really an excuse as to why a diverse supplier isn't chosen to do the work or get compensated fairly.

Duggan: Please address the importance of supplier development plans.

Rabsatt Butler: Supplier development plans are great ways to identify diverse suppliers excelling within your corporation that you can partner with to grow within your business as well as have them evolve theirs. Plans can be an equitable win for both parties not to mention great partnerships that can produce innovation and industry change. Until equity in DE&I is truly achieved, supplier development plans are another way to help drive inclusion in business opportunities, diverse suppliers often have no or limited access.

Duggan: What has changed most for you, in your role as a sourcing professional, over the past year?

Rabsatt Butler: Corporate increased awareness on DE&I holistically especially around African Americans/Blacks. Traction and participation—most strategies struggled to achieve were put on a fast track that required a reconsidered approach to educate, empower, and drive supplier diversity forward with business partners new to it all. Increased conversations at conferences, between sourcing professionals and creation of strategies for companies that didn't have it or want it on their radars. More requests to talk about how to start a program/initiative.

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